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Officials Push for High Turnout on Final Day of Egypt Referendum

  • Edward Yeranian

A woman casts her ballot in the final stage of a referendum on Egypt's new constitution in Cairo, Jan. 15, 2014.

A woman casts her ballot in the final stage of a referendum on Egypt's new constitution in Cairo, Jan. 15, 2014.

Egyptian officials are pushing for a high turnout on the final day of a two-day constitutional referendum, in a bid to demonstrate popular support for the interim government. Unofficial tallies of early turnout, according to several Arab satellite channels, were around 50 percent of eligible voters in Egypt's two largest cities and less elsewhere.

Horn-honking vehicles covered with posters urging Egyptians to “vote yes” in the constitutional referendum paraded through the streets of the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya. Supporters of the interim government are making a concerted push to get voters to turn out.

Unofficial tallies for the first day of voting Tuesday, according to Sky News Arabia, were a 46 percent turnout in Egypt's largest cities of Cairo and Alexandria. Elsewhere, the TV channel said 50 percent turned out in Damietta, 40 percent in Sharqiya, and 35 percent each in Assiut, Gharbiya and Ismailiya. Turnouts were lower in Muslim Brotherhood strongholds of Luxor and the North Sinai.

Egyptian state TV and popular pro-government satellite channels played commercials showing Egyptians saying they were going to vote “yes” in the referendum. Most satellite channels which supported the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood group are now off the air, but Al Jazeera Direct claimed that “voter turnout was low.” The Brotherhood and some other parties had urged a boycott.

Fairly long lines of voters could be seen at many Cairo polling stations Tuesday, and Arab TV channels showed women ululating to celebrate. A lighter turnout was visible Wednesday.

Egypt's interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi told a news conference that more women turned out to vote than men. Egypt has 52 million eligible voters out of a population of nearly 90 million. Beblawi said he was pleased by the turnout.

He said the percentage of women and older voters was quite high on the first day and initial tallies show 55 percent of women voters turning out and 45 percent of men. He asserted the turnout shows Egyptians want to take the destiny of their nation into their own hands and to demonstrate that to the world.

The vote is part of a political transition plan announced after the military ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July. If approved, the constitutional referendum would be followed by elections for a new president and parliament.

Police and soldiers are deployed across the country to boost security, but close to a dozen people were killed during polling Tuesday in clashes between supporters and opponents of Morsi.

The new constitution would replace the charter adopted in 2012 under Morsi's presidency, stripping away Islamist language, giving women greater rights and strengthening the power of the military.